April marks the halfway point of our Artisan Training Program in Buea, Cameroon and we could not be more excited to be working with these women! Over the course of two months, we have began to see changes and development as each woman takes the skills and business practices learned in the classroom, and translates the knowledge to their own business; while the women also determine the best steps to work together as a cooperative and to make plans, and set goals, for the future.
In an effort to celebrate all the mamas of the world and highlight one of our artisans, we met with Victorine to hear a little bit more about her experience as an artisan, seamstress, mother, caregiver, sole provider for her daughter.
As we entered Victorine’s office/workshop on a humid Thursday morning, we were welcomed with choruses of “sheep” and “ship.” Smiling and laughing at her daughter’s confusion and enthusiasm, Victorine sat working on her latest project: completing an order of outfits to be worn for a funeral. Sitting with a family friend, Victorine’s daughter was eagerly following her teacher’s instructions, as he taught her the difference between short and long vowels.
This scene is an everyday occurance for Victorine, as she is the sole provider for her daughter.
Over 15 years ago, Victorine new that she wanted to be a tailor. As many others in Buea have done, she spent three and a half years learning the trade under an instructor, working as an apprentice.
After her education was complete, Victorine spent a full two years selling fruit in order to buy her first sewing machine. Excitedly, she moved into her very first workshop, which she has now had for 12 years. However, Victorine has had many struggles along the way. With a sigh, the single mother recounts how twice she had to stop sewing due to theft. She motioned around the room, pointing to the walls saying once they were lined with material, and at one point she even had four apprentices. After her multiple sewing machines, materials and other goods were stolen, Victorine had to go back to selling fruit to save money. Eventually, a family member loaned Victorine some of the money needed to purchase a new machine. While she does not have any debt currently, Victorine hasn’t been able to afford another machine, which means she works alone without assistance from an apprentice.
With another sigh, Victorine said that she didn’t expect to be in her very first shop, now 12 years later; but with the setbacks she has faced, this is her reality. A smile spreads across her face as she looks over at her daughter, continuing to study, and says that she still has hope. And she still believes in the potential for their future.
When asked if there is much of a difference in working conditions for women and men in Buea, Victorine sat back and pondered for a moment. She slowly responded with, "well there are more responsibilities for women. Men have a choice when they have a child- they can stay involved, or they don’t have to."
Currently, she is the sole provider and responsible for all of the cooking, household chores, running a business, keeping up with orders, attracting new clients and everything falls to her alone. She has 7 people in her household which means a very busy schedule, but recognizes the importance of prioritizing her shop. Sundays are for church, relaxing, and spending time with family; from Monday until Saturday, you will see the green barn doors of her workshop open and Victorine working away inside.
Back in the classroom, Victorine always chooses the same seat for class. She is the type who will sit and ponder her response before raising her hand, or writing her question down. ave been impressed with the knowledge she brings to the table and contributes to the overall group of women, having over a decade of experience under her belt.
When we asked Victorine what she had learned from class that was most valuable to her, she said that planning a budget and tracking expenses was. Tentatively sharing that she hadn’t ever kept accurate financial records, Victorine proudly pointed to her notebook where she was now tracking her revenue and expenses. She also said that she really values and enjoys working with the other women, as it opens her up to new ideas and the creativity of others.We are thankful to have hard working women like Victorine in the program and look forward to sharing more with you over the next few months.
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